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VO2 Max Protocol

Written by
January 1, 2014
Updated April 12, 2018
Category: Fitness

By Brandon McElroy

I was trying to figure out how I wanted to train today to get my heart rate up and keep it there. I
didn’t want to run or jump rope and I wanted to use a kettlebell. Bring on the VO₂ Max Protocol!

You may have heard of VO₂ Max being tested using a treadmill in a sports lab and that’s where
it is most often used. VO₂ Max is essentially the body’s maximal oxygen uptake threshold. This
is generally considered the best indicator of physical fitness and cardiovascular health.

Here, we’re going to use a kettlebell to train our VO₂ Max! It’s intense, not only from a muscular
endurance standpoint but a cardiovascular one as well. It will leave you breathing heavy and
sweating from every pore in your body.

Before doing a VO₂ Max Protocol, make sure you are adequately warmed-up. I like to do a few
light kettlebell drills to prime to posterior chain such as swings, squats, cleans and then light

Prior to performing, you need to determine your cadence, or how many swings you will get in
each work interval. The proper way is to do a 6-minute snatch test. For the first 5 minutes, start
out slow with the reps spread out evenly and then gradually increase your reps per minute. On
the 6th minute, go all out and perform as many snatches as you can. You will then take 60% of
this number to use as your cadence. For example, if you do 15 snatches in the 6th minute then
your cadence will be 9 snatches per work interval (15 x 60% = 9).

Here’s how to perform the VO₂ Max Protocol:

  • Set a timer for 15 seconds work and 15 seconds rest. (The best physical timer for this is the Gymboss timer; or you could download a timer app).
  • Perform your determined number of snatches in the 15 second work interval with your right arm (9 using the example above)
  • Rest 15 seconds
  • Perform your determined number of snatches with the left arm
  • Rest 15 seconds
  • Repeat (Ultimate goal is 80 sets but will take quite a while to achieve if you’re just starting out)

I have done this with both a 35lb and a 55lb kettlebell. Once I hit 80 sets (40 with each arm) with the 35lb bell then I moved up to the 55lb bell. This is a test that I perform every so often to determine my progress.

This will push your body hard and will really elevate your heart rate. It is a great exercise that I constantly come back to and truly have a love/hate relationship with.

Give it a shot….push your potential!

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